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Esto Vir helps its members ‘be a man’ on campus and off
BY JOSEPH PRONECHEN
Just when you thought
chivalry and healthy masculinity were dead — hordes of young men having fallen
prey to the collegiate model of the reckless, boozing, womanizing male as the
ideal “real man” — along comes a small band of college men determined to set
As members of Esto
Vir, they’re dedicated to living the ideals of Christian knighthood and the
virtues of their faith. They kneel together in prayer, treat women on campus
with utmost respect, help people in need and band together as brothers in a
Taking the Esto Vir
pledge before God and each other, they promise to daily practice five key
virtuous activities: prayer, Catholic brotherhood, chastity, self-sacrifice and
“We realized that, as
a band of brothers, we could make a difference for each other and combat those
bad peer groups that had formed out of weakness,” says recent grad and Esto Vir
founding member David Nerbun.
Esto Vir took shape in
the fall of 2002 at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. In
Jan. 2003, the first group of men was knighted members. Conventual Franciscan
Father Bob Schlageter, CUA chaplain and director of campus ministry, provided
the inspirational spark.
He called together a
group of nine guys and told them he saw a hunger for spirituality on the part
of the men on campus but they needed a proper vehicle that would capture their
“The men came with the
whole idea of knighthood as an ideal they wanted to present, and they were
intrigued by (St. Josemaría) Escrivá’s writings,” says Father Schlageter. “They
decided to put those two together.”
Indeed, while Esto Vir
is independent and not connected with Opus Dei, the students got the name from
Opus Dei founder Escrivá, who inspired men to rise to their Catholic calling in
Latin or English: Esto Vir! — “Be a Man!”
“The secret of Esto
Vir is it’s dressed up in knighthood,” says Luke O’Connell, another founder and
2004 grad. “We didn’t reinvent the wheel, but we put new rims on it. It
captured the imaginations of the guys and fostered prayer and brotherhood among
From the roots of
prayer and brotherhood, the other virtues immediately grew. Next, there came
old formulas for knighting ceremonies and a stirring letter from Bernard of
Clairvaux to 12th-century knights on fighting both temporal and spiritual
“We saw ourselves
basically being in a spiritual battle at every moment,” says Nerbun, a former
Esto Vir paladin, or president.
They also heard St. Paul
tell them as he did the Ephesians (6:10-17) how to clothe themselves in
spiritual armor and battle gear. Esto Vir’s handbook relies also on the
Catechism of the Catholic Church, along with the Fathers and doctors of the
“Esto Vir,” says
O’Connell, “challenges guys in the best of ways.”
In fact, from the start
they prepare themselves for membership with a week of fire. Monday they meet at
1 a.m. to pray; Tuesday, the Rosary at 2 a.m.; and so on. On Friday they
assemble at 5 a.m. That week, explains Nerbun, they go to confession, attend
daily Mass, do community service and write a chastity pledge that will be
burned as a symbol of leaving their past behind and moving into the brotherhood
of Esto Vir.
Then comes the knighting
ceremony with their formal pledges to live the five virtues, the chaplain
knighting each with a real broadsword, Mass and a big feast.
Father Schlageter finds
the most beautiful and unforgettable moments for him are during the week of
fire. Among them are the vigils by Our Lady Seat of Wisdom statue outside of
“It’s a huge sacrifice
for a young adult male in college to get up at 3 or 4 in the morning,” he says.
“What’s beautiful for me is all of a sudden to see these sleepy guys from all
over campus bundled up in their Esto Vir shirts walking to Our Lady Seat of
Wisdom. They help each other. That week is a real strong bonding moment for
Undaunted by Adversity
Same when Esto Vir men
begin each week attending early Monday morning Mass together. “[Morning] is the
middle of the night for them,” says the chaplain.
semester, the men go through another week of fire to renew their own
commitment, especially soon after the fall semester begins.
And because knights
need some fraternal recreation, there are fun activities like barbeques,
camping trips and football games.
At first people
didn’t understand what Esto Vir was all about. Nerbun says some initial
reactions were negative, like the time the men decided to act as waiters for
the girls in the dining hall. Several people thought they had ulterior motives.
“We took a lot of
flak from it when we were pretty new,” says former paladin Patrick O’Malley,
now a grad student at CUA. But once people saw Esto Vir’s true intentions,
attitudes changed. Everybody appreciated their chivalry at a concert when they
gave each girl there a rose and a prayer.
“We’re trying to be a
silent witness to manliness and manly purity and what it means to be a man,”
says CUA senior and current paladin Steve Mariconti. “Some women on campus
really appreciate that.”
Nor can people miss
the examples of Christian brotherhood Esto Vir men try to be. Mariconti echos
the strong sentiments every member has: “Each guy should know what’s going on
in the other guys’ lives.”
Word Goes Forth
That translates into
supporting and helping each other through any rough times.
Esto Vir has already
spread to DeSales University in Center Valley, Pa., going into its third year
with 20 members. This chapter’s co-founder and former paladin Fernando
Cartagena will never forget the major realization he had when the DeSales and
CUA groups got together at Bethany Beach in Delaware.
“You first realize
you’re part of something much larger than just yourself and your school, just
knowing there are other men out there who want to be good men and are there to
support and encourage you,” he says.
Nor can Cartagena forget
that night when these Esto Vir men set up a little crucifix on the sand and
prayed the Stations of the Cross on the beach.
“Seeing 30 men standing
around together and kneeling by the cross was a really powerful and fortifying
moment,” he says. “That’s one of the coolest memories I have, hearing the sound
of all these men praying as one.”
Joseph Pronechen writes from
To learn how to form a chapter of Esto Vir, contact
Father Bob Schlageter at The Catholic University of America: (202) 319-5575.